Year 1

I finished a year of university, and it still doesn’t seem real. Not where I live, what I study, or the simple fact that it’s the last year I will be a ‘teenager’. I saw photos from my high school’s graduation this year, and my first thought at seeing friends in those familiar maroon and white gowns was they can’t be that old! if only because that means I am even older. Yes I know, I’m only 19, but somehow I became an adult this year and I’m not happy about it.

One of the first things people have been saying to me now that I’m back in Texas has been ‘you look older’. While that might be the short hair and look of exhaustion, it still makes me feel older. I do feel older. I have responsibilities, I live alone, I can’t always call my mom when there is a problem. All good things, but not always things I want. Mostly when it means I have to make phone calls because those are still terrifying.

I’ve been thinking about the highlights of my first year and thought I’d share a few

Copenhagen: my first trip, and a wonderful trip at that.

   
   

Vagina Monologues, the show but more than that, the friendships it gave me. 

   
   
Romania. The entire trip, the project, everything that it represents (except maybe the stress)

  
Seeing family in Portugal

  
Spending hours alone in art museums in Madrid 

   
24 amazing hours in Brussels 

 
the little moments on busy days where it hit me that this was life. That despite all the stress over where I was going to go to school, the move, how far I was from everyone I knew, how incredibly amazing things turned out.

   

Counting down to exams

Don’t study because you need to

study because 

Knowledge is power

study because

they can never take it away from you

study because

you want to know more

study because

it enhances you

study because

it grows you

I’ve all but moved into the library leading up to my first exams this week, and I can’t say I’m loving it. I’m tired and frustrated and finding it hard to focus. I’ve never really had to study before, so these past weeks have been a challenge. I’m both very comfortable with the what I need to know, but also in a constant state of panic because I haven’t had an exam in over a year and what if I don’t know how to write and essay in 40 minutes anymore, or what if I can’t think of any examples or theories, or any of the 1 million other things that I need to know. In reality, I passed all those AP exams on my ability to write essays just like the ones on this exam and I have a better idea of these topics than I ever did an AP test. So I should probably calm down a bit.

Alex

 p.s. when I’m not drowning in books, I’ll finally post the Lisbon and Madrid photos, just a few months late!

NUS Conference in Brighton

  I thought I left student government back in high school, but it seems not completely so. This past week I attended the National Union of Students (NUS) conference in Brighton. As someone who is not particularly involved in our students union (LUSU) it was a headfirst dive into UK student government.

I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I have attended enough conferences to feel prepared for the most part. And one of the first things I realized was that Girls State and Girls Nation have made any sort of event that discusses policy and uses parliamentary procedure so much easier. Amendments, parts, motions, its all easy to follow if you spend enough time practicing government. The second thing that I realized is that when they say “Union” they mean it in the workers union way that in the US we wouldn’t. Sometimes I forget that the ‘liberal’ side of the UK is farther left than anything in the US. It was interesting to watch how politics (not just student politics) impacted the discourse of the event and the actions that the NUS takes.

One of the, in my opinion odd, things that UK Student Unions do is instead of students holding the officer positions, the position is a full time job held by students taking a year off of their degree, or after they graduate. While some offices are held by ‘part-time officers’ the major ones, i.e. President, and the VP’s of various areas, are ‘Full Time Officers’ or FTOs. This of course applies to the NUS national officers, many of whom are years out of university. This led to one of the main arguments that rose up over the course of the conference and will be fought over in what is turning into a major division of universities and unions across the country. Students feel that the NUS is not representing them well, as its political, its leaders are detached from the reality of students, and students have little influence on the issues the NUS takes up over the year. With a number of Student Unions (SU’s) and student groups calling to split from the NUS, it will be interesting in the coming weeks and months to see if the division between local unions and the national body grows, or dies off as students get caught in the rush of exams and end of term. That itself may be a key argument behind staying in the NUS, and a major point behind FTOs.

What was probably the major point of division in the conference was the election of a new president, which seemingly tore the organization apart. Malia Bouattia, the president-elect and first Black Muslim president of the organization became a divisive figure in a storm of accusations of anti-Semitism, the usual racism and islamaphobia, and her more extreme approach than current president and main opponent, Megan Dunn. Going into the conference with no background knowledge of either candidate, the media and discussion around the candidates was overwhelming, and difficult to sort. And as much as SU’s threat to leave may tear the NUS apart, it seems just as likely that internal division between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ factions may be the bigger threat to the organization.

The highlight of the conference was the success of a motion for a full time Trans office and an autonomous Trans campaign to better support students across the country who have been under represented in not just major campaigns, but with the LGBTQ+ liberation campaign. The motion passed in a nearly unanimous vote, an amazing moment of unity in a conference that had felt divided and tense from the beginning.

Though I plan to stay fairly un-involved in Student Politics, the conference was definitely  an incredible learning experience. It highlighted a couple of major things for me. 1) Our student body is so disconnected from bigger issues and campaigns. Despite the response from so many other university’s students about being connected to the NUS, I think we got maybe one tweet about it? 2) We spend time bemoaning “LUSU” with no understanding of the structure, or what we mean. 3) UK politics will forever confuse me, and I have no desire to get involved. And 4) Brighton is really pretty.

Alex

 

 

Being Selfish

I would not say I’m a selfless person. I wouldn’t even often say I’m a particularly nice or caring person. I’m often mean, standoffish, and rude. I am however, incredibly bad at telling people no. My inability to refuse to do things for people is the reason behind my over-involvement in every society I have ever joined, and lots of extra stress. I can’t say I always agree to do things because I am such a kind hearted and caring person either, I just seem to be unable to say no, though I will complain about it.

I say yes to doing the entire group project, planning the event that is not my job, and fixing problems I didn’t cause. I say yes to rewriting an entire 17 minute script because someone asked even when I have essentially no time and don’t actually care to begin with. I say yes all to often because I feel I have to, that if I don’t it won’t happen, and I seem to be incapable of letting that happen. It doesn’t have to be my job to fix the problem, but I will make it.

I said no this time. I was asked to give up the position I wanted the position that would make me happy, in order to do something that while it is technically ‘better’ has no interest to me. Writing the words “I turned down being president of a society” sounds presumptuous and rude. I really almost didn’t write this because it doesn’t feel like the kind of thing you can say. But I was asked to be president of a society, which would mean leaving behind all the parts of the society I love in order to do what is basically admin work. And while that part of a society is good and important, its not what I love. I wouldn’t say its what I’m incredibly good at, though I know I am capable of it.

However, being me, and for all the reasons I explained, I was going to say yes. I was going to say yes because I was asked and I told myself that me being unhappy with my position was one of those ‘greater good’ sacrifices. That maybe I had to be unhappy about what I was doing, but it would mean all the good things would get to happen. Luckily, I have some incredible people in my life who spent weeks telling me otherwise. That I didn’t have to do all the things I hate just because someone asked. That I am allowed to choose what I want to do, and that its not my responsibility to fix the rest of the problem. Who calmed me down, and didn’t make me do it alone.

So I said no, that I wouldn’t do it. I caused trouble, upset a lot of plans, and made some people not too happy with me. I don’t regret any of that, I don’t particularly care about people being happy with me. I only that it hurt people I care about, because at the end of the day I did make a selfish decision, and it did affect others. So I’ll be sorry about that for the rest of time. But I am so incredibly happy I said no.

And lets be honest, I would have been a disaster of a president. Corporate offices make me want to vomit, I have no patience for the self-congratulatory rhetoric so often used, and I wear ripped jeans to far too many important meetings. So that is what I will continue to do, resume building and prestige aside.

Alex

TR:ust

The project I run in Enactus  is called TR:ust. It took months to name it, and sometimes I still find things labeled “Eastern European Project”. The name stands for Transform Romania: Uniting Survivors of Trafficking, which may be the single most ridiculous name I have ever given anything. Its cheesy and presumptuous, fitting the Enactus strategy of naming projects quite well. It is however, adorable, and looks great on business cards. Unfortunately, it also autocorrects to “TR:just” every single time and makes me want to tear my hair out. But returning to the point of this post, I run a project called TR:ust.

trust

TR:ust is an Enactus Lancaster  project that aims to empower survivors of human trafficking in Arad Romania through entrepreneurial action.

We are a group of university students with a passion for using sustainable business to address systematic issues in our community and around the world.

We are applying these ideas and values to human trafficking by running awareness campaigns on our campus, and working with NGO’s in Arad, Romania to develop long term enterprises that will create education opportunities and employment for trafficking survivors.

This is the ‘about’ page of our website, and though it is the fluffiest explanation I could give, its all true. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I would be running what is, at its core, an international NGO, I would have laughed. Through in its a social enterprise, and I would have called you crazy. I don’t do business, I don’t understand it, and I never would have said I wanted to. I can’t say I understand it now, I am 100% pretending I know what I’m doing every day of the week. But somewhere along the way I learned how to write a business plan, or at least delegate the actual business parts to some of my amazing project members who study business and are far more qualified than me to figure this out.

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Its 6 months later, and TR:ust is my baby, the project that was ‘hey lets do a project with human trafficking survivors in eastern Europe’  and is now an actual plan and a conference and a trip to Romania. I spend an incredible amount of my time on this project, and consistently get asked if this is my job. The fact that I a full time student who does this as a side project shocks people, including me sometimes. But this project has been worth the sleepless nights and skyrocketing stress levels.

Alex

 

That Business Thing I do

Somewhere in the chaos that was 2015, along with moving countries and chopping off my hair, I somehow joined a business organization. And considering the amount of righteous anger I have expressed over capitalism and the exploitation of trans-national corporations in the past 4 years, it was shocking. To me, and everyone I know. So here is the long overdue explanation of how it happened, and why exactly I’m still doing it.

I’m not good at directions, or reading maps. Particularly not campus maps, though I would like to state that I have give 2 different people directions to the room that caused this mess in the past few days. Its a very difficult room to find, and shares the first part of its name with the room just down the stairs from it. So when I meant to go to an Amnesty International meeting (normal, no surprise terse) I somehow found myself in an Enactus meeting. Of course, it took me a few minutes of the president speaking to figure out what in the world was going on, and by then I was much too uncomfortable to leave. I’d like to blame the English rubbing off on me there. But somehow I sat through that meeting, and at the urging of the lovely girl I sat next to and chatted with, mindlessly agreed to go to the application night as well. This is what I get for attempting to make friends.

So a week later, I found myself applying to this business organization. I didn’t take it seriously, I was unconvinced by their claims of ‘social enterprise’ and ‘business for good’ but it was the first few weeks in a new country and I needed something to do. I never thought I would get in, I don’t (and never plan to) study anything remotely business related. But for some odd reason, the exec member observing my group and reading my interview, Zoe, seemed to think I would be a good fit. Oh where that decision has taken me.

So long story short, Enactus is a international organization that connects student with businesses to help them create social enterprises to help local or international beneficiaries. The website explains this as:

A COMMUNITY OF STUDENT, ACADEMIC AND BUSINESS LEADERS COMMITTED TO USING THE POWER OF ENTREPRENEURIAL ACTION TO TRANSFORM LIVES AND SHAPE A BETTER MORE SUSTAINABLE WORLD

Please excuse me while I roll my eyes into the back of my skull over that statement, but behind all the corporate cheese, there is a lot of good Enactus teams across the world do.

Now because we all know I’m incapable of doing anything only part-way, I somehow became even more involved in this society. The project I joined was, at the start, just ‘the eastern european project’ an idea for a project that worked with victims of human trafficking in Eastern Europe. The initial research had been done by Zoe, though she was our Project Director, not Project Leader. So as we began research, we also had to sort out who that would be. And anyone who knows me can see where this went. A few weeks in and I found myself in charge of setting up an international project. Its 6 months later and I still have no idea what I’m doing, but the project has grown and developed into something amazing.

I have a lot of feelings about Enactus. And as I’m writing this, I’m pretty furious. I have days where I want to completely quit the society, and days where I would’t trade it for anything. For me, its a balance of all the things I hate versus all the good I can see these projects do. Its a difficult balance, especially on days when I’m tired and dealing with all the drama that inevitable comes with a society. But I’m still here, so it must be worth something.

Alex

International Women’s Day

While all days should celebrate women, March, as women’s history month, and specifically March 8th, as International Women’s Day, are important. This year, I got to help organize a number of events on our campus to celebrate the day.

The first, and possibly my favourite event, was a panel on women in religion. While I’m a bit biased, as this is what I study, and I was lucky enough to chair it, the panel was incredibly diverse and had some amazing answers to a number of tough questions, from how religion can be a place for equality, to how our gendered rhetoric of “God” can affect our faith. 12792218_10153363527486767_7680097968735359878_o10446042_10153363531286767_3140959838720597427_o

 

I was able to attend the Women in Science panel, which was incredibly interesting despite not being in a science field. It was wonderful to hear from academics in the departments the way university structures, from ability to work part time and accessible child care affect how women progress within academia.

We were also able to host a Women in Student Media panel, which was so exciting because while the other events had been interesting, they were all academics and professionals, where this panel was able to discuss events on campus and how students lives are impacted by gender in campus societies. And as someone in Student Media, it was really great to hear from some of the passionate and powerful women in the years above me who have made the way in student media for women, as well as how we can continue to address gender disparities in the representations we create.

Sadly, I was unable to attend the open mic night that was filled with what I know were amazing performances by women from across our campus.

International Women’s day is special, and happy. But also a great reminder of what we have to work towards. But for a bit, I just want to celebrate being a woman, and all the incredible ladies in my life.

Alex